October 7, 2022

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Vaginal Bleaching – How It Works, Risks, And Side Effects, Explained

Your vagina is a delicate organ that should be treated with care. After all, you only get one. But, despite this very important fact, some women have turned to vaginal bleaching to try to make their vaginas look a certain way.

The goal of vaginal bleaching is simple: Women try to change the color of their labia minora (that is, the inner lips of the vulva) to make it look lighter and pinker. There’s no medical reason for wanting to do this—it’s a purely cosmetic thing.

FWIW, This is not something that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) endorses. In fact, ACOG said in a committee opinion that women should “be informed” of “potential complications” of any kind of vaginal cosmetic enhancement, which can include side effects like “infection, altered sensation, dyspareunia (pain during sex), adhesions, and scarring.”

Despite the risks of doing any kind of cosmetic alternations to your vagina, ACOG said that “both patient interest in and performance of cosmetic genital procedures have increased during the past decade.” Basically, women are doing vaginal bleaching (and a range of other unnecessary things to their vaginas), even though there are some potentially serious, life-altering consequences that can come from it.

“The most sensitive skin in the body is the vulvar and vaginal tissue, so why do something that can irritate that skin for no good reason whatsoever?” says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale Medical School.

Great Q! So why are some women bleaching? The answer is complicated. Here’s what you need to know about vaginal bleaching, the risks, and why it’s tough to find a doctor who will do this for you.

What is the point of vaginal bleaching?

Again, the main goal here is to get a lighter, usually pinker-looking vulvar area around the vagina (which is the internal organ). It’s hard to say exactly why this is a thing, but Dr. Minkin suspects it could be linked to porn.

“With the advent of folks watching porn and other changes, for some reason someone decided that lightening the skin was a good idea,” she says. The porn industry is largely dominated by younger people with lighter skin, and it could simply be that people got the idea that the way their vaginas looked was “normal,” she explains.

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But women have a huge range of skin tones, and their vulvar regions are no exception. “Some women have darker skin around the vagina,” Dr. Minkin says. Again, totally normal.

The rise in vaginal bleaching could also be linked to pubic hair trends. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, it was normal for women to have plenty of hair down there. “When women had hair on their vulvas, no one paid attention to what the skin looked like,” Dr. Minkin points out. Now, it’s considered the norm to be pretty bare down there, which makes the vulva and labia minora more visible.

Your labia can also darken as you age and when you go through different life changes, like pregnancy, perimenopause, and menopause, says Christine Greves, MD, a board-certified ob-gyn at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies in Orlando. “Even bikini waxing can cause the tissue to become a little callused and darker,” she says.

How does vaginal bleaching work?

It depends. This is usually a DIY thing that women will do at home, Dr. Greves says. “Actual bleach isn’t used, but certain skin-lightening creams and chemical peels may do this,” she says. There also may be certain aestheticians who will do laser treatments. Some beauty service companies offer “intimate brightening” procedures, for example.

But it’s unlikely that you’ll find board-certified ob-gyns or dermatologists performing procedures like this, Dr. Minkin says. “Most women do this on their own,” she notes.

What happens during a vaginal bleaching procedure?

Every treatment is slightly different. If you’re using a cream, you’ll usually be instructed to slather it on, let it sit for a bit, and then wash it off. If you’re going the laser route, a numbing cream may be applied to the area before a laser is used down there.

And if you’re curious if vaginal bleaching hurts, it’s probably not going to feel great. “None of that can feel good,” Dr. Greves says.

Vaginal bleaching with topical products or lasers is also unlikely to be permanent, Dr. Greves says. Once you stop using the creams or undergoing laser treatments, your normal skin color will return with time, she says.

Is bleaching your private areas safe? What are the side effects?

That’s a no. Again, ACOG, which is the ruling body for all doctors who deal with vaginas, warns against doing things like this. If you bleach your vagina, you run the risk of things like irritation, pain during sex, and permanent scarring, none of which is good for you or your vagina.

There’s even a risk of screwing with the natural state of your vagina (aka your vaginal flora), raising your risk of infection. “You don’t want to mess with your vaginal flora,” Dr. Greves says.

Are there any other benefits to vaginal bleaching aside from changing the appearance?

Nope! “I can think of no possible benefits of doing any bleaching or laser for cosmetic purposes,” Dr. Minkin says.

If you’re genuinely concerned about the way your vagina and vulva look, she recommends talking to your ob-gyn to make sure everything is healthy down there. If nothing else, they should be able to reassure you that your vagina and vulva are totally normal. “I would really ask yourself why you want to do this,” Dr. Greves says.

Ultimately, this is a practice experts advise against adamantly. “I would recommend against doing this,” Dr. Greves says. Dr. Minkin agrees. “It’s a terrible idea,” she says.

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